Detroit music legend, Marcus Malone and Dan Smith of The Noisettes have worked together frequently over the years, with Dan featuring on several of Marcus’ albums. As the pair reveal their new passion project, an album loaded with 60’s style Rhythm and Blues, old school Soul and back to the future Funk, titled, ‘Interstate 57’ on Ramrock Red Records, DMCWorld checks in to find out more…
So let’s start by going back to the beginning.. how did you first get into music?
Marcus: I was raised in a religious environment as my parents were in a Baptist Church Choir on Detroit’s East Side and I went to service every Sunday. I took vocal lessons from the choir leader age 4 and was drafted into the choir and sang my first solo at age 6. There was always music in the house and vinyl spinning. I think the first music besides church music I remember was BB King. I had a little record player and radio I used to mimic the vocalist. I was in heaven when Motown hit the airwaves as there was a new 45 every week. I knew music was something I wanted to do at an early age.
Dan: I had an epiphany when I was about 14 after my dad came back from an evening jam session at a pub in Streatham Hill, and told me that the guitarist from Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page, had been there and jammed with my dad and his friends all night. It unleashed a mad desire in me to learn how to play guitar so well that next time Jimmy Page came back he’d be so impressed with my playing that he’d make me his protégé, and I’d be spirited away from my hometown of Croydon that had really started crushing me in my teens. I was rubbish at football, dressed like a hippy, was soft spoken and I became the subject of indiscriminate verbal and physical attacks. Jimmy Page never came back, and I never met him, but I learnt guitar so quickly that I got invited into the school production of Little Shop Of Horrors, and the rehearsals got me out of doing Physical Education. Suddenly being a musician seemed key to side stepping the pecking order of life and the status quo bullshit of school.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Marcus: Born and raised in Detroit, my biggest early influence was Motown. My favorites were the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, 4 Tops and Stevie Wonder, but I can’t exclude any of the Motown artists as influences – The Marvelettes, Mary Wells, Supremes and many more. Later in my teens I got into Sly, Funkadelics, James Brown and all that was Funky. I migrated to Ann Arbor, expanding my musical tastes to punk rock, hanging around the MC5 house. Bands there were like gangs, with guitars and similar musical tastes (no violence). I started my own band with the drummer from a teen band next door to the MC5 and we started supporting Iggy, Ted Nugent and Bob Segar mostly. I was then writing my own songs and exposed to English Rock culture, which actually brought me back to American Blues. Others include The Beatles, The Stones, Zeppelin, The Who, and of course my no.1 rock influence, Hendrix, also BB King, and Muddy Waters to name a few. I guess I’ve come full circle now with this new project myself. I’m always listening to the young bands coming out now as staying open to new ideas is really important to me.
Dan: My biggest influences range from Jimi Hendrix, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Stevie Wonder and Nick Drake.
You guys go way back, how did you both meet and when did you start making music together?
Marcus: I met Dan when he was still in Brit School. He used to come down to jam sessions that I was comparing in Croydon, South London. I thought he was a very talented guitarist and enlisted him into my band, which was performing original blues and rock songs at various venues and festivals around the UK. We did our first co-writes on my third ‘Marcus Malone’ album.
You’ve just released your new collaborative album, ‘Interstate 75’ on Ramrock Red Records, what’s it all about and what can we expect to hear?
Marcus: ‘Interstate 75’ is about bringing that celebration of life, soul, peace love and understanding that I knew as a young man growing up in Detroit and Ann Arbor. It touches on the pure escapism of driving down the I75 and all the different places on the map connecting its people together in harmony. It’s gonna be the new Route 66… smile. Get your kicks on the I75! ‘On The Other Side of the River’ is a soulful funky tune dissolving all the barriers between people of different cultures and races as they come together to dance and have a wonderful time without fear. No Taboo’s tonight – we’re gonna dance. ‘Can’t Take the Fight’ is about digging deep into your inner self and the strength to follow your dreams against all who would see you fail. Walk tall and keep your head of high. There are a lot of Sly and James Brown influences throughout the album, and the soulful funky grooves all come with messages which I hope you will find intriguing and relatable.
“If you don’t like this, you don’t deserve ears!” – Craig Charles
The album sounds like a classic with a mixture of very cool 60’s R&B and 70’s funk sounding cuts, what made you decide to make a retro sounding album? And Who or what inspired the album? And How did you put the album together?
Marcus; The album was written during ‘lockdown’ and a lot was going on and nothing seemingly, depending on how you looked at your personal situation and the ever-changing mood of the world. I always wanted to do a retro 60’s album and draw on my roots, early influences and experiences to recreate the sounds I grew up with and tell a story mixing my past with the present. I had worked with Dan on a previous project through the years called Jet Tricks – a very soulful, jazzy, funky kinda thang and knew Dan would be great to work with on my retro fest. I explained to him the idea for the first track and BAM!, the song ‘Interstate 75’ was created within a couple of weeks. Dan then sent me some tracks on which I wrote lyrics and melodies to, and I sent him a couple of tracks that I wanted him to add a retro style to and match the feel of the project. It all came together via emails and phone calls. We both have our own recording studios as we couldn’t travel.
What’s your favourite track from the album and why?
Marcus: I suppose ‘I75’, as it was the first song and I realized right away that the whole project could work and it has beyond my expectations. This was the song that got Jo of Ramrock Records interested in taking over the project and releasing it to a larger audience. Very thankful to have her in our corner. I am also partial to ‘Temperature Rising’, which most will say is a BLM song. I don’t usually get so political, but when Dan sent me the music with that working title it was inspirational and the song just dropped into my head given all the bizarre situations going on in the US and the news. Divine inspiration and emotion rocked my very core and I loved working on this song. Tons of vocals and a wonderful horn section – The Vanguard Studio Horns – to polish it off.
Dan: ‘Hurt Walks Out The Door’ is my favourite track from the album because I sent the instrumental and the title to Marcus and he came up with something so incredibly apt and poignant. He created a song I feel really needed to exist in the world right now about hurtful forces in the world, that need to make an exit as soon as decently possible to allow room for love to re-enter, and this could be on a personal intimate or global political level.
And what was the biggest challenge / labour of love in putting it together?
Marcus: Well the biggest challenge would be that once again we were working remotely and not really together and how to get the sound we wanted without a full band in a big studio. I gotta say Dan The Man ‘Guitar Smith’ was right on point. He was able to create all the music in his studio including the drum samples and grooves. I did all the lyrics, vocals including the BV’s and made arrangement suggestions. I really wanted the songs to have horns to complete the sound and fortunately again my friends at Vanguard Studio really liked what we were doing and became a part of it. Not having anyone to financially assist us in our production would normally have been a hindrance at this point for sure, but Max Grunhard, Scott Bayliss, and Tony Hayden stepped in to assist and allow us to pay it forward. A whole lotta love there for sure. The Vanguard Horn Section definitely put the finishing touches on the album. It was all a labour of love which we hope will pay off very soon and bring a of joy to our future listeners.
Dan: Frankly this record practically wrote itself. I can’t say there was anything remotely difficult about doing this album. We were of the same mindset. We’ve both made records before separately and together and maybe they’ve been more challenging, but you can’t have a more unifying inspirational catalyst than a global pandemic, an existential threat, the political and economic landscape of right now and a lock-down to make a record pour out of you.
You obviously have a great relationship having worked together for so many years on various album projects, what are each other’s most endearing qualities and annoying habits?
Marcus: Dan’s always been a professional and I can’t think of any annoying habits really. We’ve only worked remotely really on ‘Jet Tricks’ for about 5 albums and then ‘Interstate 75’. Dan is very knowledgeable, very humble and gracious and a joy to work with. He also manages to put up with me, which is amazing in itself.
Dan: This is a tough question! One of Marcus’s most endearing qualities is his ability to make light out of even the worst situations. I remember a gig we did many years ago playing covers in a pub to earn some money and Marcus had the flu and collapsed at one point, but still carried on doing the show. Annoying trait – only that he’s a perfectionist to be honest. He can sometimes “Make Better The Enemy Of The Good” in trying to get a better sound or tone either on a mix or an individual sound. I guess comparatively, I’m a bit lazy in that respect!
Which have been your biggest career highlights?
Marcus: I’ve had lots of highlights. I was flown from Detroit to LA and the first person I met was Ike Turner. Ike’s management had signed me to their label, United Artists Records. One of my biggest highlights was being the opening act and meeting BB King at The Royal Albert Hall. He was so encouraging, down to earth and humble and actually listened to a bit of my performance. Another was sharing the stage with Maceo Parker, Dr John and James Cotton in 2013. I was the front man for the finale at the Camden Round House for a Children In Need Fundraiser. Yeah, I was the leader of my “dream band” and I got to say those famous magic words, “Maceo Give Me Some Horn!!”
Dan: Mine was probably sat up on the roof of Sunset Village Recorders studio in LA with an acoustic guitar on a sunny day-off on tour trying to come up with a song watching the traffic go by below. It became a song called ‘Sometimes’, which was the first track on The Noisettes’ album ‘Wild Young Hearts’. Shingai the singer and Jamie the drummer joined me on the roof later and we were singing it then spotted Chris Martin from Coldplay trying to make a phone call on his mobile phone (probably to the missus) then he eventually joined us and sang along too.
Both having music careers spanning several decades, you’ve seen a lot of change. As artists in 2023, what needs to change in the music industry for the better?
Marcus: As the music business has gone primarily digital, there has to be a better way to compensate musicians for streaming, YouTube views and publishing.
Dan: Money chasing song-writing habits and playlist committees deciding which gets on the telly and the radio all fed by social media needs to stop as it doesn’t really add up to much cultural richness for all. Take a listen to Radio FIP in France – it’s their national radio station. Unbelievable how eclectic it is compared to what we have in the UK. When I listen to FIP I’m constantly Shazaming new music and adding it to my repertoire of stuff I love. We were much better off when we had payola and chart fixing to be honest – it made some people financially better off, but it gave us much more musical diversity.
What’s the secret to writing a good song?
Marcus: Well for me personally I think it’s translating one’s fears, joys, hurts, loves, expectations, disappointments and emotional experiences in life into songs listeners can feel and relate too. I was extremely quiet growing up and I found writing music an escape and a way to relate and make my way in the world. I always kept a diary which I drew upon. There are other methods of writing of course. Some deep emotional experiences are at the root of any good song no matter the genre.
Dan: Honesty and making the language as conversational as possible.
What’s next in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
Marcus: I’m working on other projects writing and playing live shows and Dan is also. We are hoping to go live with this project, so watch this space as they say. It would be great to play our album at a festival or two this year and maybe more next year. We hope to also write a follow up album to ‘Interstate 75’, hopefully in the same room.
Marcus Malone & The Motor City Hustlers ‘Interstate 75’ Album is out now on Ramrock Red Records.